Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity: The Birth of the Monster in Literature, Film, and Media

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Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity: The Birth of the Monster in Literature, Film, and Media by Andrea Wood and Brandy Schillace (Cambria Press) includes a discussion of the world’s fascination with zombies and zombie films.

Monsters continue to fascinate—as well as to plague and haunt imaginations. The psychic landscape is peopled with them; the social fabric is woven of them. This persistent, paradoxical repulsion and fascination with monsters and the monstrous begins, however, with causation. With the “birth” of each new monster comes a particular anxiety about its ability to self-replicate, generally through perceived “unnatural” means. The cultural imaginary remains obsessed with the origins and genesis of monsters. From whence do monsters come? How are they created—and more importantly—what is their reproductive potential?

Ironically, the very cultural and unconscious fears and anxieties about “unnatural” reproduction and monstrous progeny give birth to texts that perpetuate the creation and replication of monsters. The link between the monstrous and fears of reproduction are present from early modern narratives through nineteenth-century fears of degeneration, and into contemporary fascination with apocalyptic zombie films and science fiction narratives about genetic engineering, viral pandemics, and trans-species generation. While the incarnation of the monster manifests through different vehicles across these periods and texts, it is clear that, regardless of its form, anxiety is rooted in concerns over its fecundity—its ability to infect, to absorb, to replicate.

Much has been written about gender and the monstrous, but sustained engagement with textual manifestations of cultural and unconscious fears and anxieties about “unnatural” reproduction has been limited. This book expands the current discourse on the monstrous reproductive potential of bodies—as well as minds—from a more interdisciplinary and transhistorical framework. While scholarly interest in monsters and the monstrous is certainly not new, studies on monstrous reproduction and birth have tended to be either discipline or period specific, and many are now dated. Drawing from diverse interdisciplinary perspectives in film and media studies, literary studies, history, medicine and women’s and gender studies, Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity builds upon pre-existing work while engaging more directly with monstrous progeny, as well as with unnatural reproduction(s), which threaten to eclipse the future, cast uncertainty on the present, and reimagine the past.

Ultimately, then, the primary contribution of this book lies not only with its extensive treatment of reproductive monstrosity and unnatural parturition, but with the breadth and intriguing continuity that only a wide lens can provide. This book does not attempt to provide a complete historical assessment or catalog of the enduring cultural fascination with the reproductive origins and potential of monsters. Rather, it provides diverse interdisciplinary and transhistorical perspectives with single unifying theme of unnatural reproduction(s), which is unique to the collection, remaining central to the concept of monstrosity and its evolving narrative incarnations.

This interdisciplinary collection spanning the areas of history, literature, medical humanities, and film and media studies explores the transhistorical textual fascination with reproductive monstrosity and unnatural parturition. The collection’s four sections provide perspective on hyperbolic and monstrous representations of reproduction and birth that speak to anxieties and fears about gender and sexuality, codified through “unnatural” manifestations and their progeny. By focusing not only on the effect of the monstrous, but also on its reproduction in a variety of genres and modes from science to cinema, the essays in this collection offer critical insight into enduring questions about the genesis of monsters and their reproductive potential that have long haunted the world and continue to shape many fears about the future. This book analyzes how fears about unnatural reproduction and monstrous offspring—and their frequent connections to the feminine—have proliferated and propagated across the very texts which are repetitively created and consumed.

Unnatural Reproductions and Monstrosity is an important interdisciplinary book for university library collections and scholars working in women’s and gender studies, film and media studies, history, literature, and medical humanities.

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